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Danton
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« on: October 31, 2017, 10:43:16 AM »

Unto The End



BLOG

I recently read Blood, Sweat and Pixels it inspired me to change the format of this blog. Rather than giving you updates as to how Unto is going, trying to bait you with screenshots or under the covers previews. I'm going to focus on how I'm feeling about Unto's gamedev... what it's like for Sara and I, a two person husband and wife studio to make a game after selling our house, quitting our jobs and betting everything on this crazy idea of making it in gaming.

If you have questions, feedback or ideas please fire them over.



THE GAME


Unto The End is a 2D cinematic combat platformer made by my wife Sara and me, Stephen. It will be coming to Steam, Xbox and PS.

Sara and I are Canadian, we met in college and lived in Seattle for a while. A few years or so ago we quit our jobs, sold our condo, and lived abroad while learning everything we could about gamedev. We’re now in Berkeley California, and hope to stay here until Unto is finished.  

Unto The End is about a father who lost everything and his journey of vengeance through unknown lands. Lands inspired by our time in Iceland, Northern Scotland and Patagonia. In addition to our travels, Unto draws inspiration from Limbo, INSIDE, Another World, Flashback, Mark of the Ninja, and Punch-Out!!



TRAILER


We officially announced Unto at E3, below is the trailer.






SCREENSHOTS












NOTES

Some of you may recall that Sara and I were working on a game called North -- I wrote that we'd be done by 2016. Not quite Smiley. We learned a lot from North, and there are definitely similarities, but Unto is a distinct game, written and designed from the ground up.

We're currently transitioning from concept / prototype to production status, working to hit a proper alpha by end of year / early 2018. The screenshots and gameplay footage from our E3 trailer is likewise pre-alpha.

I hate small font, this Information Architects post summarizes the topic well.




« Last Edit: January 18, 2018, 08:47:27 AM by Danton » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: October 31, 2017, 11:29:09 AM »

FINDING WOAD

Woad, also know as Asp of Jerusalem or Isatis tinctoria, is a yellow flowering plant in the cabbage family. Native to parts of Asia as well as Europe, the leaves of the plant were a key source of indigo dye during medieval times, but their use goes back to Neolithic times.

The first time I saw woad was in Braveheart, brilliantly used to adorn the faces of Scottish warriors. Interestingly Braveheart and his clansmen probably didn’t wear woad, as it was a trend that predated the Scotsman’s actions. More recently I’ve seen woad used in Hellblade as a mask / makeup for its main character Senua.

I came across woad as an agent of opposition in Paul Freeman’s Tribesman’s series. Freeman details a group of warriors covered and emboldened by woad. I liked this idea of a group of creatures empowered by a natural element like the dye from a plant’s leaves. (Sara and I are very keen to build Unto without the crutch of magic, no fireballs or lighting attacks. Any "magic" is rooted in natural elements. Fireballs are realized through a sort of molotov cocktail container, lighting through a static electricity rod, and so on.)

It was Freeman’s description of the Woad, mixed with its historical use that inspire Unto’s Woad.

Our first cut at the Woad was okay for the game’s concept, but ultimately feel short in a number of regards.



After the prototype phase we came up with a set of criteria for a well designed Unto creature. (We call them Actors, but I’ll circle back to that in a later post.)

1, Must be visually distinct from the hero in shape and form
2, Must be able accommodate a believable societal structure, religious beliefs, historical context, etc.  
3, Must not be obviously evil or dumb.
4, Must be realised enough that an expansion could be built around them as the main character.

(4) is really the main one. The way any Actor moves and feels must be interesting enough that we can quickly come up with a number of different adventures that they could go on, controlled by the player across 3-6 hours of gameplay.

And how they move needs to be distinct from the father. A bit of context. The father is a farmer that knows how to fight, he’s not a soldier, chosen-one, or demi-god. His movement is heavy and a bit laboured. Take your average dad, fit but not a super athlete and imagine them on this journey of revenge. That's the father.

The woad shouldn't feel anything like the father. The Woad should agile and athletic, animalistic but intelligent, approachable but fearsome.

We started by iterating on the prototype-Woad, although we liked the adornments (and we'll probably use this in some form going forward), the fundamental form of the Woad was wrong. Too obvious, poorly proportioned, etc -- neither of us saw him as a main character capable of carrying a game.



So we started into sketches and mockups, both on paper and in Illustrator and 3d.

ERUDITE
WARRIOR
SIMIAN

At first we really liked what we called the "Simian" woad, going so far as to do a quick 3d mockup. But, we quickly realised that the simian violated criteria (3) and would be a stretch for (4).


We ended up blending what we called the “Warrior” concept with the “Simian” concept. The warrior felt too upright, too human, while the simian felt too animalistic and simple, but together they struck a good balance.


This eventually evolved to include tweaked proportions (seen in gif below) and a more sophisticated skirt / kilt, inspired by samurai clothing.


The other big thing had to improve was their movement. The way the Woad moved in the concept was limited, they could run, dodge (using a roll) and jump. But they couldn’t climb, ran more or less like the father and overall lacked the athletic personality we wanted for the Woad -- a Woad shouldn't roll, they should leap and bound athletically.


So we redesigned and rebuilt all of their animations. This and the in-game gif below are me controlling the Woad, using them in the same test terrain as the hero. The Woad lands with ease (while the hero will stumble from a long fall) climbs a cliff in one motion (while the hero labours to hold on and then pull himself over the ledge). We realised that actor movement couldn’t live in isolation, it needed to be relative to the father. The player spends the whole game with the father, everything they meet will be assessed relative to the father and so everything needs to be designed in a way that reads in relation to what the player knows about the father.


« Last Edit: November 09, 2017, 02:46:24 PM by Danton » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2017, 09:21:26 AM »

MOVED IN - OCT 3rd 2017

(During October I kept a daily journal. I didn't know if I would share any of it, but I've decided to pull entries from it and share them here. This is a longer one, most are much shorter. It's the day after we moved into our new place in Berkeley, October 3rd 2017.)

Moved in. Mostly. A few things here and there to finish but things are actually starting to feel like home.

As a kid we moved a lot. My Dad worked for the government and got transferred every few years, taking new opportunities when and where he could. My parents worked so hard for Greg and me, and themselves I guess, but it felt like it was more for us. We’d move into a new place, and I swear within a few days my Mum would have it cleaned top to bottom, all the boxes unpacked furniture setup and renovation plans underway. Maybe everyone sees their parents like that, but as a kid I thot they were super heroes backed by some limitless energy supply. I hope I work that hard.

Sara and I have had a blast looking through old stuff, and unboxing our favourite pictures, furniture and knick-knacks. After nearly 2 years living out of a suitcase you sort of forget what a home feels like. Having our stuff, our bed, our things, arranged our way… it’s not just comforting its transcendent. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Maybe now we can actually get this game done.

Alright that’s it, off to go work out, and maybe even trim my beard… it’s getting out of control.
« Last Edit: November 01, 2017, 02:19:07 PM by Danton » Logged

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« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2017, 12:58:35 AM »

This looks pretty damn good! Excited to play it!
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« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2017, 02:21:01 AM »

There's some really beautiful shots in that E3 trailer and I love the animation. Great work and best of luck with the development!
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« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2017, 06:58:08 AM »

@gimbill @aamatniekss thanks guys, very cool of you to say.

@gimbill I've been working / studying my ass off to get better at animation -- still tons to learn -- but really nice to hear that someone thinks the work is worth it!
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« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2017, 07:50:58 AM »

HIT REACTION RAMP




Worked on HitReactions for most of the day. Squeezed a run into Berkeley Bowl as well, the most amazing produce section I’ve ever seen -- we are so insanely fortunate here in North America.

Side note: just learned that Chrome supports Canadian English, no more Color for me, nothing but “u”s from here on out!

Sorry. Hit reactions. Yes they help sell a hit, but for us they also convey the hero’s current health -- along with idle posture, rate of breath, blood,  wounds and controller rumble. Four hits and he’s dead. We’ve seen that after a hit the player is most ready to “read” the hero’s state, rather than say during idle. That’s the theory at least. The three levels of “Recovery” are shown below.

Another side note: we break hit reactions down into Flinch → Knock → Recovery and add variants at each stage. Knock, as in knock -back/down/up is looped, so we can have hits with greater power knock an opponent back farther.


Level 0 - Very quick, just 17 frames.


Level 1 - Laboured recovery, but still in the fight


Level 2 - Death's door. Recovery is heavily emphasised, with an Idle that shows exhaustion.


Here they are as a sequence.

A lot of this is inspired by the final duel in Rob Roy.




From the simulation side of things I make liberal use of hitstop / slo-mo. We tried camera shake but it caused a bit of motion sickness. Perhaps the non-arcade’y feel of gameplay just doesn’t marry well with sudden movement of the camera, will have to fiddle with it more.

Right now I slow down to 10% game speed for 11 frames  --  I’m sure we’ll tweak this over time. I do this by starting a coroutine  --  allows me to set and forget about it.



Code:
public IEnumerator doHitStop (int frameHold, float scale)
{
    for (int i = 0; i < frameHold; i++)
    {
        if (i == frameHold - 1)
        {
            Time.timeScale = 1;
        }
        else
        {
            Time.timeScale = scale;
        }
        yield return null;
    }
}


I recently read that you should stop a coroutine before you start it, just in case it’s running.


Code:
StopCoroutine("doHitStop");
StartCoroutine(doHitStop (11, 0.1f));
« Last Edit: November 09, 2017, 10:39:19 AM by Danton » Logged

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« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2017, 02:20:55 PM »

This looks excellent! Looking forward to seeing more and playing this someday! :-)
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Composed music for the games Antichamber, Out There, The Stanley Parable, Planet Alpha...

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« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2017, 03:47:40 PM »

@sidbarnhoorn

Sid -- you do brilliant work. I've been listening to your track list for the last hour, absolutely fantastic. And, thanks for the kind comments. I'd love to get your feedback on Unto down the road. Cheers!
« Last Edit: November 02, 2017, 03:57:33 PM by Danton » Logged

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« Reply #9 on: November 02, 2017, 04:42:14 PM »

Looks fantastic so far! You mentioned how the game is inspired by your time in Iceland, Northern Scotland and Patagonia. How long did you explore each place? Was it an epic back-packing adventure?
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« Reply #10 on: November 03, 2017, 12:51:46 AM »

Hey! This is beautiful! Simply captivating! I want to play it and the feel the cold biting my face off.
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« Reply #11 on: November 03, 2017, 08:28:04 AM »


@RadicalBradical

Heya, first off thanks for the kind words -- very cool of you to reply!

When I was younger I played lots of sports: basketball and hockey, mostly. And as I get older I'm paying for it Smiley. My knees are rubbish and my back doesn't do well with too many nights sleeping in a tent or under the stars. Sara on the other hand can sleep anywhere Smiley.

So we split the difference.

In Patagonia, we rented a rather old little sedan and drove into Torres del Paine where we stayed in small cabins. Each day we'd do these epic hikes into the surrounding area and mountains. A truly stunning place.



Scotland, we were lucky enough to stay on a croft, in Canada we'd call it a farm, in the States they might call it a ranch. Using that as a home base we did all sorts of hikes and treks. Trying our best to get as lost as possible and treating each outing like an adventure -- spying interesting sights in the distance and then spending the next few hours figuring out how to get there.

The area below is heavily inspired by Northern Scotland, and a trek we did near the Old Man of Storr. We found this old sheep path that zig-zagged up a steep hill. If you've ever been to that part of Scotland you know that the ground is almost like walking on a buckwheat pillow -- all loose and soft, while hard at the same time. To make things more interesting it was insanely windy, a few times we both got knocked off our feet for a wee tumble down the hill. Eventually we made it near the top and after a bit of light bouldering, made it to this plateau. We later learned that plateau was used by shepherds to hide sheep from raiders. If we can capture anything like that in Unto, I'll be very happy.



We visited Iceland in the winter, and stayed in a hotel. But we rented a 4 wheeler and had an amazing time just driving around. Iceland, is a fantastic place to get lost in and we'd spend entire days just driving and taking roads that seemed interesting, getting out every once in a while to hike around the landscape to take in as much of it as possible.

« Last Edit: November 09, 2017, 10:39:44 AM by Danton » Logged

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« Reply #12 on: November 03, 2017, 08:28:59 AM »

Hey! This is beautiful! Simply captivating! I want to play it and the feel the cold biting my face off.

Thanks Sacha -- can't wait to have you give it a go and let us know what you think. Cheers!
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« Reply #13 on: November 03, 2017, 08:40:39 AM »

GAME DESIGN - ACCESSIBILITY AND EXCLUSIVITY

Catching up on some old news and I came across John Walker’s Boss Skip post and Ben Kuchera’s Polygon article. I spent much of the day thinking about the issues raised around accessibility and exclusivity. It’s a terrible gnarly conversation. One that is as much about the general medium of games and the personalities around it than a set of simple features or ideas. FWIW, the comments on both the RPS and Polygon articles are as good if not better than the original articles and well worth a read.

Those comments cover much of how I feel about the discussion, but I wouldn’t be much of a game designer if I didn’t think about it relative to what Sara and I are trying to do with Unto and games in general.

In general, while I agree with John's intent (make games more accessible), I disagree with his suggested approach. A boss skip button is lazy design. A hack that works to reduce games to mindless entertainment. Doing accessibility right, means designing it into gameplay with thoughtful mechanics and experiences which allow for a greater range of interactive expression -- and ultimately a wider audience. It's not just slapping on some features in a hopes of getting a few more people through your game.

In terms of Unto. Unto is a game about “combat encounters”, but one where you don’t have to necessarily kill things in order to overcome those encounters — if that makes any sense. Although we’re spending all this energy on designing and building what we think will be a deep and rich combat system, we’re also spending lots of energy enabling an experience where sneaking, hiding, humbling, surrender, fleeing, befriending, etc, are all viable options.

We’re doing this because we want to say something about combat, killing and revenge within games. We want players to have a choice as to how they role-play revenge. We want death to matter and the lives you interact with in the game to be seen as valuable, just like your hero’s life and that of his family. Enemies will not stand around waiting for you to fight them. The game is not set up as one big combat gauntlet that you have to overcome. Instead, we see it as a home that you’re invading "room by room". How you handle meeting the home’s inhabitants and their reaction is up to you.

Is this accessibility? I guess at some level. But Sara and I see it as designing a game that we would want to play. Of course we want as many people to enjoy Unto as possible, but we also need to make something that has deep meaning for us, as artists and designers. For instance, we’re not doing much for the type of people that like stat based RPGs, puzzle games, match three experiences, point-and-click adventures, word games, boss rushes games, FPSes, or the dozens of other game genres out there. Perhaps that means Unto is too exclusive and inaccessible?

I'll leave it at that, and suck in and for a bit, as my mum would say Smiley.

I also spent a good amount of time working on rounding out our hit reactions and terrain experiences. Sara and I want terrain to be the third factor of any encounter: the hero, the opponent(s), the terrain.

So ledges are something you can climb and fall off. Similarly walls are something you can jump off, jump up and smash into. When fighting you can use these to your advantage or be boxed in by them. As we flesh this out I’ll post more examples, but here are a few I liked.

Off to go pick up a table for our kitchen.


Wall jump to cleave can be used to catch a chasing opponent off guard.

Getting knocked off a cliff, deals damage, plus a bonus relative to the fall height.


Getting smashed into a wall stuns the hero/opponent making time for a counter.

« Last Edit: November 09, 2017, 10:40:18 AM by Danton » Logged

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« Reply #14 on: November 05, 2017, 07:30:25 PM »

LEMON CURD + GAME DEV



Spent Saturday at a friend’s in Cupertino — about an hour drive from Berkeley. Sara made lemon curd tarts and scones, our friends made dosa and chaat — a delicious exchange of family favorites Smiley.

When in comes to making lemon curd tarts Sara takes care of actually making the curd and crust, while I pick, juice and zest the lemons, and grind graham crackers in our mortar and pestle for the crust. We collaborate on done’ness and set’ness.

Processing and measuring the ingredients is the easy part, the skill comes in crafting the final result. Finesse drives crust formation — not too thick, not to thin and just the right amount of crumble. Patience and decision making are needed to realise a silky smooth, set but not too set, curd. Cook it at too high a heat and you’ll get scrambled eggs, take it off the heat too early and you have lemon soup — waiting until it “coats the back of a spoon” (yea but how bloody coated is coated!) is not as easy as it sounds.

It’s a lot like game dev. You spend all this time processing and measuring, then you start assembling, carefully trimming, tuning and polishing. You get advice about how floaty a jump should be or how much squash and stretch you should have in your animations, but knowing how much or how little is really the key. That’s the part that no one can really tell you (just like the back of the spoon) you have to learn through observation, failure and iteration. Near the end it’s all about making a call as to when it’s done enough — nothing is ever perfect.

Seeing gamedev in this everyday frame helps Sara and I put it into perspective. Like our lemon curd tart, we’re making something with love that we hope people will enjoy as much as we do. Along the way we’re going to make mistakes, but as long as we keep having fun and learning it will be worth it.

///

Also found time on Friday to work on hit reactions from behind the hero, a complimentary set to the ones I posted earlier. Thought it was a nice touch to have the father look back in a “what the heck!” fashion just as he’s hit.




« Last Edit: November 09, 2017, 10:40:40 AM by Danton » Logged

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« Reply #15 on: November 06, 2017, 12:42:51 AM »

It looks amazing Smiley
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« Reply #16 on: November 06, 2017, 07:39:19 AM »

@bombjack -- thanks!
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« Reply #17 on: November 06, 2017, 02:55:01 PM »

Very cool idea and aesthetic. Combat looks like it is going to be fun. Immediately made me think of "Another World" when I saw this.
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« Reply #18 on: November 07, 2017, 08:11:23 AM »

@sanwayzar -- thanks for that, made my morning Smiley. Another World is a big influence. Definitely in terms of art, but also in how personal and handcrafted it felt.
« Last Edit: November 07, 2017, 12:37:56 PM by Danton » Logged

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« Reply #19 on: November 07, 2017, 08:21:16 AM »

RESEARCH // PATHFINDING + SCENE VIRTUALIZATION

I’ve been reading up on scene streaming for the last few days. Seems fairly straightforward but I’m worried getting snappy perf is going to be a headache. We’re after the same no-loading-screen-anywhere feel of INSIDE. Hopefully I can pull it off. I thot Playdead's GDC talk was brilliant. Definitely worth a watch if you're making games in Unity.





Aside from that, the next big challenge is NPC pathfinding. We want them to be as mobile as the player’s character. All the movement code and animations are there, now it’s just about getting the pathing logic to work well. The high bar here seems to be Awesomenauts from what I’ve read at least -- arguably we’re going to demand more than they did. So tall task ahead no doubt.

Some notes / articles on pathfinding if anyone's interested:

Breakdown of grid based approaches

Approach for Awesomenauts

Pathfinding + AI for "Boss"



« Last Edit: November 09, 2017, 10:32:53 AM by Danton » Logged

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